As a recruiting coordinator, Tim Horton appreciates the process.
One of the moves that most convinced Horton to take an assistant’s position on Gus Malzahn’s new staff at Auburn, was a personal visit. Malzahn traveled to Conway over the holidays, while Horton was visiting with family, to convince him to take the job as tight ends coach for the Tigers.
“That (essentially an in-home recruiting visit) made me feel good,” said Horton, via phone from Auburn, during a break from jumping headlong into recruiting for another team. “Like any business, it meant something that he came calling to see me. It gave me a sense I was appreciated.”
Horton, one of the best running backs and athletes in Conway High history, has served an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Razorbacks for six years, a valued link to high school coaches in the state. His in-laws, Larry and Hilda Malpica, still live in Conway. He has previously served as an assistant at Appalachian State, Air Force and Kansas State.
He reflected on the whirlwind that has been his life for the last year.
“I was thinking the other day. Just a year ago we were preparing for the Cotton Bowl and celebrating a win in the Cotton Bowl, then all kinds of things happened that changed everything.”
Head coach Bobby Petrino was fired in the wake of a motorcyle accident and subsequent scandal involving the hiring for his staff of a female who was his companion on the motorcycle, unearthing an affair. John L. Smith was hired as an interim coach to keep the current staff together and the Hogs, who began the season with high rankings and national title hopes, took a nosedive, going 4-8, 2-6 in the SEC and not even qualifying for a bowl.
Wisconsin’s Bret Beliema became the new head coach and began putting together an all-star staff of highly respected assistants. Beliema had conversations about the role in the new order with Horton, who was the lowest-paid member of Petrino’s staff.
“With the coaching change, your life is put on hold,” said Horton. “I wanted to see what would happen at Arkansas but also poke around at what other opportunities might develop. Coach Malzahn called and asked if I had any interest in Auburn and he came to Arkansas to see me about it. At this time, I felt it was the best move for me and my family. I’m looking forward to a fresh start and a new chapter in my career.”
And the learning curve is lessened by familiarity of the territory — Auburn is also a member of the SEC West.
“Unfortunately, it’s still the SEC West and that almost makes me wish I was going to the NFC East,” Horton said with a chuckle. “But what makes it good at Auburn is there is not a member of the staff that I don’t know or haven’t worked with. I recruited Springdale High when Gus Malzahn was a coach there, was on the Arkansas staff with him and coached and recruited against him. I knew Rhett Lashley (offensive coordinator) when he played for Malzahn in high school. I’ve known J.B. Grimes (offensive line coach) for years. I’m comfortable with the whole staff. What is also important to me is their values are in line with what I want my values to be.”
He’s also excited to get a fresh start on what he terms a new chapter in his life.
“I was ready for a change,” he said. “I’ve coached receivers and running backs and now I get to work with tight ends or H backs in a new offense. It will be something different for me and the opportunity to grow as a coach. It will help to learn an offense like this. The spread is the in thing nowadays and coach Malzahn is one of the guys who has been innovative in that. I think it’s a good move for my future.”
It was still a tough decision for Horton, who spent his youth watching his father, Harold, work as a Razorback assistant under Frank Broyles and Lou Holtz and later was a familiar figure on the sideline when his dad was leading UCA to some of its best years in school history.
“What attracted me to come back to Arkansas was the opportunity to be back with family and so many friends,” he said. “This was probably the hardest part. Me and my family are Arkansas proud to the core. I’ll miss being closer to family and friends.”
And outside relationships.
“I will really miss the Arkansas high school coaches; they are my best friends,” he said. “We talk almost every day by texts and phone calls. There are great friendships and I’ll miss the daily contact.”
What about his immediately family?
“They’re good; coaches’ children tend to be very resilient because moving is just part of the job,” he said. “One reason we want to get settled here at Auburn as quickly as possible is so they can get in school and get comfortable with new friends. Dad (Harold) thinks it’s a good opportunity for me. Mom (Betty) is acting like you would expect any mom. It may not necessarily be me leaving, but we’re taking her grandkids away.”
He said recruiting territories among the Auburn staff have not been established. He expects possibly some limited role in Arkansas according to what is needed. He said he has contacts in both the Panhandle of Florida and Memphis that might be helpful.
“But great thing about Auburn is the location,” he said. “There are a lot of great players within a three-hour radius.”
But when Auburn visits Fayetteville next season, he figures there will be a strange feeling.
“I remember when we were at the Cotton Bowl last year and they had a party to introduce the teams,” he said. “When they introduced the teams, they would play the fight song. For Kansas State, the band played the “Wabash Cannonball,” which is their school song. We had previously coached at Kansas State and my wife, Lauren, was familiar with the routine and the song and started clapping. I whispered to her that she probably needed to quit that because we are not at Kansas State anymore. When we take the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and they start doing the “Woo Pig Sooie,” in the stands, I hope I don’t get caught up in that and start calling the Hogs.”
That’s the tightrope in Horton’s new life.
“For 364 days a year, I’m a Razorback, but on that 365th, I’m an Auburn Tiger all the way.”